My late husband and I decided we would not do the standard chromosome tests when I fell pregnant with my 5th child at 43 years old. I had 4 healthy children all born underwater with the assistance of skilled midwives. I planned to have another water birth for Rebecca, even though my body felt tired, the pregnancy long and she did not seem to move as much inutero as her 4 siblings had done.
My son was born on Christmas and Rebecca was due on the Easter weekend of 2007. The coincidence led to some surprising introductions as I could not find a doctor willing to work on a public holiday or be on standby. But when in tears I convinced the midwives I could not do a natural birth, they put together a team of specialists from different religions who would be available on Easter morning.
“The doctors were panicking at her low heart rate,
while my husband and I reacted calmly and tried to absorb the shock reactions of the people around us.”
As Rebecca was lifted out of my womb the Paediatrician announced to the theatre: “I see Downs symptoms here!” Much excitement followed as nurses demanded to know if I’d been tested for a Downs child, or been offered my rights to terminate the pregnancy. The doctors were panicking at her low heart rate, while my husband and I reacted calmly and tried to absorb the shock reactions of the people around us.
Rebecca had a large hole in her heart which is typical of 50% of Downs babies and other cardiac complications. She was rushed to ICU for resuscitation, and we were informed that she would remain on life support until a high risk operation in 23 weeks was performed. If successful, this operation would be followed by open heart surgery at 3 years when the holes could be permanently patched.
Secretly, while strapped to the C-section guernsey, my heart leapt at the thought of having a ‘different’ child. During a fun 3D scan 32 weeks into pregnancy, I stared at her picture and told my husband I suspected she would be Downs. Regrettably we told no-one, so her Trisomy 21 diagnosis came as a big shock at birth. Her siblings in particular were very anxious, desperate for information and the assurance that their baby sister would live.
My advice to a new mother of a Downs Syndrome baby would simply be to accept the challenge, & enjoy every milestone as you would enjoy those of a typically developing child.
We now have complete assurance that Rebecca will live a long life. She has speech, physio and occupational therapy to overcome low muscle tone and assist her participation in mainstream schooling. Our lively, loving, life-giving 9 year old has given us much pleasure, joy and also comfort in time of loss and grief. She is an inspiration to everyone to overcome the physical, social and intellectual barriers she has overcome.
My advice to a new mother of a Downs Syndrome baby would simply be to accept the challenge, & enjoy every milestone as you would enjoy those of a typically developing child. Raising Rebecca has been great fun, more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done in my life.
A Downs child will have developmental delays, but these can be wonderful learning experiences for everyone involved. In many ways it is easier to raise a child with Downs syndrome, since expectations are typically low & very basic, and Rebecca meets & exceeds all of them.
Early intervention in the form of physiotherapy, speech & occupational therapy is imperative to the functioning of a Downs child, but I would strongly recommend early socialization too. Treat your child as a normal, typically developing child, never lowering your expectations.
Rebecca is a central part of our family. We never hide her away from society and teach her the skills necessary to function in it. We encourage her continually and are very proud of all her accomplishments, particularly her participation in Grade1 at a mainstream government school.
Downs people engender a love & friendliness which is sorely missing in our world. Against the odds and discouragement of a society which frowns on people who are different, I maintain my vision that Rebecca will be a fully-functioning, contributing member of society one day.
Real Life Story shared by loving mom Verity Farrell.